by Drew Howerton, senior executive editor

“Hi, I have a ticket for The Emoji Movie at 7:30,” I say to the cashier, handing her my phone. There is no tone in my voice, no expression on my face. “Enjoy your movie!” she says with fake retail enthusiasm. “I wish I could,” I reply darkly, stuffing my ticket stub into my jacket pocket, hoping that I can deny my fate for just a little while longer. Inside the theater, I order a cup of coffee for the exhausting journey ahead of me. As I stand in line for concessions, I look at all of the moviegoers around me, chattering with excitement as they prepare to go see a movie that they will surely enjoy. I grab a package of Reese’s Pieces. I pull out my movie ticket and look it, thinking about how short life is, and how long an hour and twenty six minutes is. Solemnly, I grab another package of Reese’s Pieces. 

I think about where I’m going to sit when I get to the theater. I decided to sit at the front when I bought my ticket online, just to really milk the misery out of the experience. The theater is pretty much empty, save for a couple of parents and their kids and some college kids here for a quick laugh. An ominous sign to be sure. I take my seat near the back of the theater because if there’s nobody in the theater, it probably doesn’t matter where I sit. Big mistake, because a party of 15 plus preteen girls and their moms have entered the theater, and it turns out I’m sitting in their seats. “Could you move down a couple so there’s room for us?” a mom asks me. I think about begging her to go see a different movie, to go take the children elsewhere. But all I say is, “Yeah of course.” The theater lights come down, and the film begins. 

The Emoji Movie takes place inside the smartphone of Alex, a high school freshman and follows the lives of you guessed it, emoji. Specifically, it follows Gene (voiced by T.J. Miller), a “meh” Emoji who lives in an oddly oppressive society where all emoji must convey only one expression under threat of being deleted. Gene, however, is different in that he is able to express multiple emotions, from heart eyes to crying to blushing. This concerns Gene’s parents, who are also “meh” emoji and worry that he will never be able to work in the messenger app like every other emoji due to his unique ability. Gene decides to pursue his dream of conforming to society’s expectations anyway, but sure enough, he is unable to simply be “meh” when Alex decides to use Gene in response to a text from his crush, Adi. Because nothing shows that you’re interested in a relationship with someone like completely blowing off their sincere intentions over text! When Gene fails miserably at fulfilling his literal one purpose in life, he is scheduled for deletion by Smiler (voiced by Maya Rudolph) and her army of knock-off Norton Antivirus bots. With the help of his friend Hi-5 (voiced by James Cordon), a disgraced high-five emoji who longs to be one of Alex’s favorites again, Gene seeks the help of Jailbreak (voiced by Anna Faris), a hacker who claims she can reprogram Gene to be truly “meh” and whose only real purpose is to move the plot forward and deliver some half-sincere messages of female empowerment.

I love movies, and I like to think that every movie has at least some redeeming quality, some artistic merit buried deep in the movie no matter how bad it is. That said, The Emoji Movie is completely unremarkable and entirely devoid of anything other than a couple of pretty bottom of the barrel jokes, even for children’s entertainment. The movie is the epitome of a cash-grab, the kind of movie written and directed in a boardroom at Sony Pictures Entertainment, conjured into existence by suits with deep pockets, whose entire impression of teenagers was influenced by their sixteen year old daughter who is internet savvy. The Emoji Movie feels like a really long advertisement aimed at kids who just got their very first smartphone. I took to counting the amount of Sponsored Cont- I mean apps in the movie: Spotify™, Twitch™, Facebook™, Instagram™, Twitter™, Twitch™ again, Just Dance™, and Dropbox™ because doncha know that those Teens just love Dropbox™! Of course, this shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that Sony announced that the studio had partnered with big developers for the movie, because you know that they want that sweet, sweet Spotify™ money. There is really no effort to hide it either, because after all it is the entire premise of the movie.  

The Emoji Movie really can’t decide what message it wants to convey. At the film’s opening, it marvels at how innovative smartphones are and how essential they’ve become to society. Thirty seconds later the movie makes a joke about how Those Darn Teenagers Have No Attention Span Because They’re Always On Their Phone, which made me lose about 15 years of my life. Come on Sony! Are smartphones good, or are they evil witchcraft that is ruining today’s youth? At another point, Alex is deciding what to say in response to Adi’s text message. His unnamed classmate, who is a walking caricature of a Very Cool Teen Who Is Cool Because He Is Wearing His Baseball Cap Backwards, responds that “words aren’t cool dude”. Haha! I get it, those teens use emoji because they’re too lazy to use real words! This made me groan inwardly as I lost another 15 years of my life. At another point, a teacher is talking to his class about Egyptian hieroglyphics, asking the teenagers if “they remind anybody of anything”, making an interesting comparison of emoji to ancient pictographs. This puts forth the fascinating idea that perhaps human history is cyclical, that language is again evolving to resemble something similar to ancient writings. Of course, The Emoji Movie doesn’t go as far as I just did, because all of the teenagers give the teacher a blank stare and this idea is crumpled up and thrown into the trash can. Those silly teenagers and their smartphones! If I wanted to hear about how teenagers are always on their phone and don’t interact with anybody, I would just read The Wall Street Journal. 

All of this stems from the fact that The Emoji Movie assumes all of its viewers are dumb, which is a trope in children’s entertainment that needs to die. Why is it that because it’s meant for children, a movie has to be total watered down sludge? The Emoji Movie offers nothing unique to kids that they can’t get anywhere else. It’s jumbled message of “Be yourself!” and normal-guy-goes-on-journey-to-find-out-he-was-special-all-along story has been done a million times by movies like Wreck-It RalphThe Lego Movie, and dozens of other kids movies that are actually thoughtful and good. The Emoji Movie has to force feed everything to the audience, because everyone knows that a ten-year-old can’t think for themselves and pick out the message of a movie. This leads to scenes like one where Gene and Jailbreak are dancing in the Just Dance™ app, and Gene tells Jailbreak to just “express herself”. “Through dancing?”, Jailbreak replies in one of the most unaware pieces of dialogue ever delivered in cinema history. At another point, it is revealed that Jailbreak is actually a princess emoji who is trying to escape to The Cloud in hopes of being free of gender roles. This is a really great message for kids, except it’s delivered awkwardly and insincerely when Jailbreak literally says it out loud. It’s pretty absurd to assume that the people who paid money to watch this movie are stupid. It’s even worse to decide that kids entertainment has to be stupid and full of poop jokes because its for kids. Did I mention poop jokes? Because there’s a poop emoji in the movie, voiced by Patrick Stewart. Within the first 20 minutes of the movie, there are about six poop jokes, all of them bad and soul-crushing. Every time that Poop-trick Stewart was on screen, I let out an audible “That’s Captain Picard!” much to the annoyance of the parents sitting next to me. I found myself wishing that this was just a very weird episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and that any moment the crew of the Enterprise would beam down and save him and everyone else from this horrible movie. 

The Emoji Movie is probably the only movie that has made me elicit no response at all. I could tell when I was supposed to react and how I was supposed to react, but it didn’t do anything for me. But Drew! The Emoji Movie is for kids, of course it didn’t do anything for you. Well let me say, I don’t care. I hope that aliens come down and destroy the Earth as punishment for The Emoji Movie. Our children deserve much, much better than an advertisement not-so-cleverly disguised as a movie. I actually broke my cardinal rule and actually checked my phone a couple times. I seriously considered walking out of the movie and never watching another movie again. In fact, I spent some time compiling a list of things I would rather do than watch The Emoji Movie. The list includes but isn’t limited to:

  • Waiting in line at the DMV. 
  • Getting numerous shots despite my crippling fear of needles.
  • Putting my bare hands on the hot steering wheel of my car after its been sitting outside in the sun all day.
  • Going shopping anywhere in town on Aggie game day. 
  • Watching zit popping videos on YouTube. 
  • Repeatedly smashing my big toe into a hard coffee table.

Despite the clever guise of family fun, The Emoji Movie is an awful attempt to cash in on a cultural phenomenon and exhausted message that everybody else moved on from two years ago. The resulting effect is a movie that isn’t even adjacent to provoking real feelings, instead coming off as hollow, which is pretty much how I felt after watching The Emoji Movie. Do yourself a favor and save your eight dollars on another movie or literally anything else.